College was a bustling marketplace swarming with young girls and boys, shouting at the top of their voices. Shikha and Rajani looked at them and each other in wide-eyed confusion – this didn’t quite gel with their notion of a college.
It was only a little later that they got to know that this was just a sample of the college crowd. More would come in later in the evening. For now, the ones here were gathered in preparation for that evening’s farewell party for the outgoing batch and fresher’s party for the new batch. Our girls would miss the latter owing to their late entry to college – much to their relief.
“Shiks,” Rajani whispered in scandalized tones, “this is a boys’ college?”
“Budhoo! Don’t be such a ganwar,” Shikha muttered, “So what? Most colleges are co-ed.”
“Yes, but does Papa know?”
“Surely he would know? And if he doesn’t then he should have found out. It’s too late now.”
“You are too much Rajji!” Shikha was exasperated. “You were going to AIIMS weren’t you?” She was instantly horrified. “Sorry Rajji, I mean…”
“It’s okay Rajji. That is exactly why I am saying,” Rajani swallowed, “Papa didn’t want me to join AIIMS he wanted me to join LHMC.”
Shikha stared. “You didn’t tell me!” she accused.
Rajani flushed. “Yes. I didn’t want to upset you.”
“Well you upset me now!” Shikha went red in the face and walked up to her father who was waiting in queue to complete their admission formalities. “How much longer Daddy?”
“No idea dear. May take a little while though. Why don’t you girls have a look around the campus?”
“No Daddy, we are fine. Suppose somebody asks who we are?”
Lalit laughed. “Don’t you know?”
“Daddy! They may rag us.”
“I am sure they won’t. But if you are not confident then stay here.”
“Daddy, does Uncle know this is a co-ed college?”
Lalit’s brow furrowed. “I suppose he does. I gave him the brochure. Why?”
Shikha shrugged. “Rajji thinks Uncle may not like it. He wanted her to join LHMC.”
“Well it’s too late now. Tell her to stop worrying. In today’s time and era all this doesn’t matter.”
“Yes Daddy.” Shikha rolled her eyes and turned to look for Rajani. She stood surrounded by a crowd. Shikha sighed. Not even a day in college and already in trouble. And likely to drag me into trouble as well! Oh well she couldn’t just dump her could she?
“Where are you from? What is your name? A fresher aren’t you? Which subject?”
Rajani was being bombarded with questions – her expression was as if she were facing a firing squad. The questioner was a scruffy boy with stubble – handsome, Shikha admitted to herself. No wonder all his companions were girls.
“Hello, myself Shikha Suri from Chandigarh.” She squared her shoulders and plunged into the battlefield.
“Hello Myself from Chandigarh,” drawled the boy turning around in a studied casual manner. There was a burst of raucous laughter.
“And This-self is?” He turned back to Rajani who blanched, almost cowering.
Instantly a clamor rose. The boy raised a hand they subsided. “So Miss This-self are you…?” he opened and closed his mouth whilst moving his thumb.
Shikha almost groaned as she saw Rajani straighten, “Come,” she grabbed her hand and pulled her away, “Daddy wants us to sign some papers.” Flashing them a smile, hoping it looked apologetic and sincere, Shikha tripped off on the double with Rajani trotting along trying to keep pace.
“Shikha! My arm.”
“Ohh! Sorry.” Shikha held her ears. “Sorry, sorry.” She massaged her arm. “Okay?” she said feeling guilty.
“Yeah. Where’s Uncle? Let’s go. He must be waiting for us.”
“No Budhoo. I only said that to get you away from them.”
“Why? I could have handled them.”
“Oh really? One moment you were cowering and the next moment you were planning to land him a facer.”
Rajani giggled. “Not a facer.”
Shikha looked at her with foreboding. “What?”
“Nothing.” Shrugged Rajani. “He was asking if I was dumb wasn’t he?”
“Yeah.” Nodded Shikha.
“So I was just going to nod my head and watch his face fall.”
Shikha stared at Rajani. They burst out laughing.
“Good thing I dragged you away when I did!”
“Nonsense. I would have loved to show that…that impertinent lout his place.”
“My my,” Shikha all but whistled, “Not even a day away from home and look at her, the chick has grown wings! Flying high are we?” She dropped her mocking pose and said. “Just hold it okay? Don’t go around being over-smart.”
“What over-smart? You didn’t even let me do anything. Made my plan flop.”
“Just relax okay? This is a new place. Better learn the ropes, get to know people, their ways and customs before throwing your weight. Besides, I know you.”
“What do you know of me?”
“That you are just like a fake sutli bomb – a whole lot of promise, a spark, some smoke and you are spent.”
“What!” Rajani was insulted. “Oh really? Is that so?”
“It is so,” insisted Shikha. “Think for a moment, what would have happened if you had done what you were intending to do? Okay let’s pretend I am the lout,” Shikha struck up an attitude and waved her hands under Rajani’s nose, “Are you dumb or what this self?”
Rajani pursed her lips and nodded solemnly.
Shikha’s (or the lout avatar’s) face fell in the most ludicrous manner.
Rajani burst out giggling.
“See!” Shikha pounced. “Exactly what would have happened there and then they would have lynched hung and quartered you. Never fight, never move into a confrontation unless you have to.” She advised.
“Hmmph,” Rajani put her nose in the air, “look at the way you talk – Naniji! What do you know? You are just one month older to me…”
“Whatever, all I know, unless you have the gumption to stick to your stand, don’t jump in – especially not if you are a giggler.”
“Shikss,” Rajani hissed. From the corner of her eye, she had caught side of her tormentors edging towards them, “they are coming let’s go.”
But it was too late. The lout was upon them. He was alone.
“Signed the papers?” There was a distinct mocking note in his voice.
They flushed, but bolstered by Shikha’s presence, Rajani held her ground. “We were just going. My name is Rajani Ahuja. You are?”
“Rajani from Chandigarh?”
“Yes. What about you?”
“Not so dumb eh?”
Rajani stiffened. Shikha barged into the conversation. “Which batch are you?”
The boy flicked Rajani a knowing glance. He held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you both. I am…”
He dropped his hand and turned around. The girls exchanged glances.
“Oh there you are Harry.” Two girls panted as they came up to them. “We have been looking all over for you.”
“I am right here. Getting to know the freshers from Chandigarh.” He turned back to the girls and held out his hand. “Hello. I am Harikishan. Pleased to meet you Rajani.”
Unsure of what to do Rajani hesitated. But since he didn’t withdraw his hand, Rajani held out hers and shook it limply. Unfazed he turned to Shikha, “And you are Shikha right?”
“Yes. Hello and thank you for the welcome.”
“Meet the others, Geeta and Usha.” They nodded and smiled.
“Shikha.” They turned it was Lalit. “Come along.”
“Okay, see you around.” Harikrishan’s eyes lingered the fraction of a second longer on Rajani.
The girls followed Lalit. “Hmm,” Shikha nodded her head ponderously, “No wonder Uncle didn’t want you to study in a co-ed.”
But Shikha wasn’t done yet.
“Harry.” She chortled.
“Shut up.” Rajani hissed.
“Did you notice? Harry likes you.” Shikha sniffed and flicked her dry cheeks.
“Nonsense.” Rajani huffed.
“Oh yes he does. He had eyes only for you. I wish Daddy hadn’t come then.” She mourned but then spoiled it by giggling.
Rajani gave her a shove.
Shikha’s eyes gleamed and glittered. She snickered. “Harry has a crush on Rani.” She sang out and danced out of reach. “Harry aur Rani ki toh kahani ho gayi~i~i…”
Up next Chapter 71: Day One